Anniversary Strife Killed 11, Pretoria Says
Eleven blacks were killed during and after the nationwide general strike marking the 10th anniversary of the Soweto uprising, but the South African government claimed Tuesday that its tough security measures prevented widespread disturbances.
Although the day’s death toll was the highest since President Pieter W. Botha imposed a national state of emergency last week, giving the police and army virtual martial law powers to quell the country’s civil strife, the government maintained that many more people would have been killed but for its unprecedented measures.
“Nowhere was there mass unrest,” Brigadier Leon Mellet, a spokesman for the government information bureau, told a press briefing here. “The incidents of violence were isolated.”
Millions of blacks stayed away from their jobs Monday to mark the anniversary of the start of anti-apartheid riots 10 years ago, but on Tuesday almost all of them returned to work, according to reports from the country’s major industrial centers.
Of the 11 killed Monday, as many as seven appeared to have died in the continued black political in-fighting that generally pits militants against moderates, or occasionally one militant group against another, according to Mellet.
Most of the seven died, either shot or burned to death, in towns where bitter struggles are under way among these political rivals for leadership of the community.
Those perceived as police informers, government collaborators or simply “sellouts” have often been dealt with harshly, but they have countered by forming pro-government vigilante groups that have taken even tougher action against their radical opponents.
The other four victims were reportedly killed by police patrols. In three cases, police said they fired on black mobs that attacked them with firebombs; another man was killed when police opened fire to disperse two groups of blacks fighting one another.
Severe new government restrictions on the reporting of the civil conflict here prevent reporters from verifying this information independently. Under the emergency regulations, journalists may provide only the government account, if any, of actions by the police or army, they may not enter the country’s black townships to report or cover unrest anywhere else, and they may not report “subversive statements” by anti-apartheid leaders.
(From Paris, Times staff writer Stanley Meisler reported that Oliver Tambo, president of the outlawed African National Congress, told a U.N. conference on sanctions against South Africa that “some reports, yet to be confirmed, point to massive slaughter” by the government Monday. But he rushed from the conference hall without giving details.
(“What we do not know . . . is what did the regime do behind the scenes,” he said in his speech. “Why was it necessary to cut off the cities from the eyes and ears of the world? What crime was the government preparing?”)
Mellet, in a new warning to reporters on Tuesday, said they must not suggest that the information bureau’s reports are anything but full, factual and fair accounts of the situation here. He acknowledged, however, that he could deal with only the major incidents and could provide only limited details on those.
The deaths of the 11 on Monday brought to 42 the number of persons killed since Botha declared the state of emergency last Thursday, a slightly higher daily average than in May, when 213 deaths were reported. May was the bloodiest month since the unrest began nearly two years ago.
From September, 1984, until the end of May, 1,782 persons died in the country’s civil strife, the independent South African Institute of Race Relations reported Tuesday. Scores more have been killed this month, taking the 22-month total to well over 1,800.
Monday’s general strike, the largest protest by black workers yet, brought much of the South African economy to a halt, but Mellet described it as a failure because it had not developed into widespread violence that the government alleges had been planned by the African National Congress as the start of a popular uprising.
“Although it was expected that incidents of violence could have escalated, they were nowhere near those anticipated,” Mellet said. “It is now clear that the people of South Africa reject the ANC and its violence.”
Mellet again was unable to provide any of the documentary evidence that the government says that it has of such a rebel plan, which reportedly included a march on the principal government buildings in Pretoria on Tuesday and black attacks on white suburbs.
A more critical issue, however, is the government’s failure, despite the most extensive deployment yet of its security forces, to establish an atmosphere of calm in which most blacks felt free to go to work unafraid of the “intimidation” that Mellet said kept most of them home Monday.
The government’s political dilemma is this: Either the vast majority of black workers wanted to participate in the general strike, protesting the government’s apartheid policies and the renewed state of emergency, or they were coerced, as Mellet insisted, into joining the protest.
Neither explanation bodes well for the government’s plans to create a “political calm” through the state of emergency and then draw moderate blacks into negotiations on a new constitutional system, which shares power with blacks but continues white control.